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Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Claude Duvalier’

I lived and worked in Haiti for a good portion of my adult life when I was a very sure-of-myself thirty-something who knew my fellow Americans very well.  I knew they would never elect a celebrity to the Oval Office. That was 1980 … and they did.

When I lived there, Haiti did not have elections. They had a President for Life. I was reminded of this on my way to and from work twice a day by the huge billboard on the Champs-de-Mars across from the National Palace.  Nobody in Haiti voted for him.  His dying father made him president while he was still in his teens. Nobody in Haiti ever called him “Baby Doc” – ever!  Sometimes American tourists would use the term, and we would gently whisper corrections.  You never knew who might be listening. “But I have freedom of speech,” they insisted. Nope, not there you didn’t.

When I sensed trouble coming in the early 80s, I left. In 1986 Jean-Claude Duvalier was overthrown and also left. Haiti embarked on the long, rocky road to democracy. It was and is very bumpy ride – sort of like a ride on a Haitian tap-tap.

A president was elected, then overthrown by the army and exiled, and then returned again to fulfill his elected term.  N.B. We did not install Aristede, and he was not our “puppet.”  President Clinton 42 merely restored the elected Haitian president to his rightful post.  Just saying because I have heard that allegation.

On January 12, 2010 a catastrophic earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. Colleagues told me, when they heard early estimates of one-tenth that many, that they did not think that toll was possible and must have been an exaggeration.  They did not know Haiti, and they did not know Port-au-Prince.

Our Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton was on the ground in Haiti within days, the first foreign official to arrive.  The President at the time, Réné Préval, met with her at the airport. It would take him 12 additional days to finally show his face on the Champs-de-Mars where thousands of homeless Haitians congregated in a makeshift tent city in front of the collapsed National Palace.  It was an astounding abdication of leadership.

Elections were scheduled for later that year. Once again Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a visit and met with the three run-off candidates. One of the candidates was a popular performer – a bit of a naughty boy with a distinctive head-style that became shorthand for his candidacy (têt kalé – or “shaved head” meant Martelly during the election season).  Another was a woman with a Sorbonne degree, experience in government, and former First Lady.

Mirlande Manigat was the presidential candidate for the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) centre-right party. On October 18, 2010, Dr. Manigat also received the endorsement of the Collectif pour le Renouveau Haïtien (COREH).

Her platform for the presidency includes a focus on education of the youth of Haiti, and lifting the long-standing and restrictive constitutional conditions on dual nationality. She specifically promotes opening government positions for members of the Haitian diaspora. Manigat also aims for a more independent Haitian state, one less reliant upon and subject to foreign governments and NGOs. – Wikipedia

The winner was Michel Martelly with no government credentials or experience.

Martelly’s journey to the presidency is documented in the film Sweet Micky for President which is currently available on demand at Showtime. Given my love for and attachment to Haiti, of course I watched.

I was unprepared, however, for the parallels that emerged between the 2010 Haitian election and the election season we are experiencing.  Our democracy is so much older.  Theirs is like a toddler who runs before he can get walking under control.  I never thought our presidential campaign events could resemble some of the anger and violence that erupt during third world elections.  But then we have to look to the candidates and the way they run their campaigns.  That is where the similarities lie.

Older and wiser now, I know that yes, Americans absolutely will elect a celebrity for reasons perhaps very similar to those for which Haitians elected “Micky” Martelly.  I have learned never to underestimate what Americans will do in the privacy of the voting booth, never to trust what they might do with their precious ballots, never to assume.

Martelly fell into disfavor with the populace. It was probably inevitable.  In January 2015 protesters in the streets angrily demanded his resignation.  He resigned office in February of this year.  We will never know what Mirlande Manigat might have done as the first woman president of Haiti. I doubt that she will ever make another run.  I do know that we have a chance make our decisions based not on celebrity and visibility but rather on issues, plans, and policies.  Strutting and fretting your hour on the stage leads to being heard no more, after all, and ending up just a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.

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It is her main spokesman, not the Secretary herself who is being ambushed here by the press corps on Haiti, but it foreshadows the kind of questions the Secretary of State herself will be fielding in the coming days.  I predict, however, that she will quiet the restless press more effectively than P.J. could.  They really played hardball with him, but,  all due respect,  he is not the best fielder.  Ace shortstop needed here!

Personally, I believe what P.J. is saying.   Duvalier was traveling on his Haitian diplomatic (!) passport  (since France really does not want him either and would not issue him a passport on a bet).  Therefore he did not require a visa.  Probably only Air France knew who had boarded the plane.  The news was out only shortly before he landed.

There truly is nothing in our current Haiti policy to deal with the return of ousted former officials.  The Haitian Constitution has no exile provision in it, so technically, none of these guys is prevented from returning.  Exactly how much influence the U.S. government has over the movements of Jean-Claude Duvalier could be a question, but my guess is, not much if any.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 18, 2011
SNIP

QUESTION: Do (inaudible) Haiti?

MR. CROWLEY: Haiti.

QUESTION: Do you think Duvalier should be arrested or removed from the country? I mean, what’s your position of him being there? And did you know in advance that he was going?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we were informed about an hour before the point that he landed this weekend. If I look at the list of challenges that Haiti faces today, having a former dictator return to Haiti just adds to Haiti’s ongoing burden. But as to his status in the country and what happens, this is a matter for the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti.

QUESTION: What’s –

QUESTION: Who informed you an hour before?

MR. CROWLEY: The French Government.

QUESTION: Did you –

MR. CROWLEY: Which, as I understand it, it was when they first learned that he was on his way to Haiti.

QUESTION: So you’re not – as you understand it, the French knew an hour before he landed that he was on his way? Wasn’t he flying on an Air France jet?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, you’re talking about the government. We were given a heads up roughly an hour before he landed.

QUESTION: Do you think that that was an appropriate amount of time, considering the investment that you’ve made in Haiti?

MR. CROWLEY: Again –

QUESTION: And the fact that you were the ones –

MR. CROWLEY: All I can tell you is we were –

QUESTION: — who took him out of the country in the first place?

MR. CROWLEY: We were surprised and not involved, and what happens at this point is up to the Government of Haiti.

QUESTION: Have you made any effort to get into direct contact with him or his –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that anyone from our post has been in contact with Mr. Duvalier.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what he’s doing there?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very good question.

QUESTION: There’s got to be some, I mean, analysts in the State Department who are saying –

MR. CROWLEY: All I can tell you, and just repeat, we were not consulted nor involved in his return to Haiti.

QUESTION: Fine, but you didn’t give any thought to whether he would return at all? I mean, you haven’t been looking at this? In 2006, you made a big effort, which was – there were examples in WikiLeak cables – but I remember at the time that the State Department specifically said that his return would not be productive. And so with all the turmoil –

MR. CROWLEY: And I’m not –

QUESTION: — that was going on in the election right now, you didn’t think in your wildest dreams that perhaps he would return?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it – you’re asking two different questions. We are obviously looking at this very closely. This is a very –

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’re looking at it very closely, but I didn’t think there was (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: You asked a question. Now, it’s my – you asked a – you want to ask another question?

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: All right. I’ll wait.

QUESTION: No, go ahead. Please.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, fine. You basically asked – we’ve been watching this situation very closely. When you think about the unpredictable aspect of his return, the delicate situation that Haiti faces, the many challenges that Haiti faces in terms of public health, in terms of reconstruction, in terms of the ongoing election process, we were surprised at his return, but we do not necessarily view this as being particularly useful at this time. But –

QUESTION: No, I understand. You just said that, though.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But what I’m asking is: How could you be – I just – I’m surprised that you’re surprised, because you’ve been looking at Aristide’s possible return. You’ve been kind of warning him not to go. There is a precedent for him wanting to return. Like I said, in 2006, he was looking to come back and you made a lot of effort for him not to come back. So I just don’t understand why this would, like, catch you completely off guard that this was not something that you had been looking into, given the volatile political situation in the country and the history for dictators wanting to return to Haiti.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, let me underscore it. What you’re asking is: Did we know in advance he was coming back to –

QUESTION: I didn’t ask if you knew in advance; I asked you why didn’t you look into it before.

MR. CROWLEY: Our focus is on trying to help Haiti work through the current electoral situation, helping Haiti to recover and rebuild; that is our focus. I guess I’m simply saying, did we know in advance that he was coming back? The answer is no.

QUESTION: Given that he’s already there –

QUESTION: Did you have any discussions –

MR. CROWLEY: All right. Hold on.

QUESTION: Given that he’s already there, what’s your counsel to the Government of Haiti now about possibly prosecuting him? I mean, wouldn’t that further inflame the situation? Are you saying that perhaps it should –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, what happens at this point – today, there is a meeting, I believe, ongoing between government officials, legal officials and Mr. Duvalier. What happens at this point forward is a matter for the people of Haiti. This is not – this is their concern, not ours.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that any further – any action against him could further inflame the situation? Is that it? Is that –

MR. CROWLEY: Of course. The fact that he arrives in the middle of a very difficult and delicate situation in terms – as the OAS has provided its analysis of the first round of elections and the government itself has to determine what to do about the ongoing election process, this is a – one more complication in an already challenging situation for Haiti.

QUESTION: Did the State Department have any discussions with the Preval government just before his arrest – Duvalier’s arrest?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not – I don’t know.

QUESTION: Now, that the precedent has been set, would you object to Aristide also coming back to Haiti?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are focused on the many challenges that Haiti currently faces from public health to reconstruction to an ongoing election process. Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens.

QUESTION: But with so much U.S. aid money going down there, you say that, like, these returns could just inflame an already complicated situation how? I mean, do you think Duvalier has the capability or the ability to destabilize things even further? In what way?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’s an historical figure. He has been a divisive figure in Haiti’s past. He is – has a track record of a repression of the Haitian people. So there are probably many, many views of Mr. Duvalier. Again, our focus right now is how do you – how does Haiti move forward with the ongoing election process? What’s critically important to Haiti’s future is the development or the emergence of a strong, credible, legitimate government that can meet the needs of Haiti’s people and help Haiti move forward and rebuild and recover. That is our focus, and we don’t believe at this point Haiti needs any more distractions.

QUESTION: Given the fact that you said sometimes that his presence just provides more complication in a tough situation already, what was your reaction when you saw the reports on the ground that were people who were actually supporting him, outside his hotel? And our reporters on the ground are saying that when they took him away, reportedly arrested him, that people were chanting in support of him.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, as I just said a moment ago, there are a number of – I’m sure a range of views of Duvalier and his record, it’s not for us to recount it here. And what happens at this point is really up to the Haitian Government. Our focus right now is to help Haiti through this delicate period, get a – have a new government emerge that is credible enough and legitimate enough and viewed positively in the eyes of the Haitian people so that the country, with international support including the United States, can move ahead with the ongoing efforts to rebuild Haiti.

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